Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Adidas RPG

One of the cooler of many cool props in William Gibson's most recent novel, Spook Country, was a pair of Teutonic combat sneakers:

Wired: One of the details that leaped out at me was the Adidas GSG9, named for the German counterterrorism squad. I felt certain you'd invented the shoe, but then I Googled it.

Gibson: The Adidas GSG9s were the obvious choice for the thinking man's ninja. Nothing I could make up could resonate in the same way. There's code in name-checking the GSG9 history — esoteric meaning. Something that started with Pattern Recognition was that I†discovered I could Google the world of the novel. I began to regard it as a sort of extended text — hypertext pages hovering just outside the printed page. There have been threads on my Web site — readers Googling and finding my footprints. I still get people asking me about "the possibilities of interactive fiction," and they seem to have no clue how we're already so there.

There's a whole thread of German-branded cool running through Gibson's fiction, back to the light aircraft liaising corporate headhunting in the Sprawl and the drone from Mona Lisa Overdrive — conjuring up layers of alt-Luftwaffe potency by the simple use of the word "Dornier." Semiotically, there's an interesting effect to this appropriation and repurposing of that secret American fascination with the products of WWII German engineering (think Cold War American kid loading up his model Schwimmwagen with Luger-toting ski troopers), the latent power behind that sort of 80s-style "West Germany" techno branding, as if Kraftwerk codes a domesticated Peenemünde posse. Gibson has plenty of company in this particular eyeball kicking strategy, but he pulls it off with so much more natural cool.

Courtesy of Spiegel Online, I now have a better idea of the deeper roots of the meme — the secret prehistory of Adidas, Puma, Hugo Boss, et al, as military equipment suppliers. Not only is there an Adidas combat boot, there is (or at least was) an Adidas RPG. Given Gibson's talent for inventing products that later become real, we are counting on him to bring it back better than before, the perfect next-generation AK-47 for the rogue wildness of the 21st century.

The Prehistory of Adidas and Puma

...Herzogenaurach, the Dasslers' home town in Bavaria, has a long tradition as a center for shoemaking. In 1922, for example, it boasted 112 shoemakers drawn from a population of 3,500. It was here, in 1924, that Adolf and Rudolf Dassler founded the "Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory" to specialize in athletic shoes. During the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, a German sprinter wearing Dassler spikes took the bronze medal. But it was the legendary shoes of Owens that established the Dasslers' worldwide reputation and laid the foundation for two exceptional careers. After the war, Adi and Rudolf went their separate ways. Each would build up one of West Germany's showpiece sports companies -- one Adidas, the other Puma.

But the history of the Dasslers -- who both joined the Nazi Party in 1933 -- wouldn't be complete without one chapter from World War II: In 1944, there was suddenly a spike in the number of Allied tanks being blown apart by German fire. The culprit was the latest anti-tank rocket launcher, nicknamed the "Panzerschreck" ("Tank Terror"). This extremely effective weapon petrified Allied tank crews -- and it was manufactured in the same factory that had developed Owens' shoes only eight years earlier....

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